Bimbos and Himbos:
Coincidence? You be the judge

by Cliff Bostock
(Originally published in the "Paradigms" column of Creative Loafing, Atlanta, Aug. 22, 1998)



Atlanta was host to two national events last weekend -- the 18th National Barbie Doll Convention and the 20th Hotlanta River Expo.

Coincidence? I think not.

The former event, of course, honored the famous Mattel doll, alternately reviled and adored the world over as the symbol (or stereotype) of perfect young womanhood. The Hotlanta River Expo is the nation's largest and original "circuit party," a weekend of mega-dance parties, including a river raft race and a male beauty pageant, attended by thousands of tanned and hairless gay muscleboys. Circuit boys, like Barbie, are alternately reviled and emulated in the gay subculture. (Themed circuit parties are held all over the world, throughout the year.)

In short, the city was full of bimbos and himbos last weekend. Nearly everyoBlinking Barbie friendsne was white, of course.

Granted, both groups are easy targets. Undoubtedly, several Barbie lovers and circuit boys (who, with their short hair and ripped abs, often look a lot like Ken) have already snatched up pens to write irate letters to the editor. After all, the letters will say, Barbie is now a doctor. Nay! She is an African-American doctor in kente cloth (in ne incarnation at last week's exhibit). Damn it! She's even an astronaut! Hey, that's close to a friggin' rocket scientist.

And, of course, there are any number of circuit boys who, when not wearing (only) CK boxer shorts and combat boots on the street during a party weekend, are making fully clothed life-and-death decisions in corporate boardrooms and retail showrooms. And, the apologists always further argue, let's not forget that an unstated percentage of sales of Hotlanta tickets benefits AIDS organizations. Every circuit boy is just a dowdy AIDS activist trapped in a himbo's body, isn't he? Yeah right.

Of course, the more common response by the bimbo/himbo is to accuse critics of jealousy and bitterness. Bimbo Barbie and the circuit boy, young and beautiful, surveying their perfectly perky worlds cannot imagine that the rest of us don't want what they have.

And, let's face it. There's some truth in that. It's still impossible to grow up female in America and not feel the pressure to become Barbie, to notice that Barbie still often gets the prize. Gay male culture arguably promotes values identical to the sexist ones that have made Barbie one of feminists' favorite targets. With the exception of a few strident critiques -- like Michelangelo Signorile's Life Outside (HarperCollins, 1997) -- gay men remain astoundingly unreflective about the way they sexually objectify one another.

Dowager Barbie and budsThat, of course, is what Barbie and the circuit boy have in common: bodies that work for them as well as they worked for the busty robotic women in the 1975 film, The Stepford Wives. That very few women come naturally by the classic Barbie figure is self-evident. Recall that Todd Haynes' first film, Superstar, was an absurd-sounding but poignant biography of bulimic Karen Carpenter played by a Barbie doll. The Carpenter family successfully blocked the film, available now only in bootleg prints, from distribution.

Interestingly, Barbie, whose sales average almost $2 billion annually, is undergoing her third makeover since 1959 this year. Mattel is giving her a thicker waist, narrower hips, a less perky nose, a smaller chest and a more subtle smile -- a capitulation, it would seem, to a less Stepfordized appearance than her earlier incarnations.

Alas, the circuit boy reveals no such imminent change. Indeed, the rampant use of steroids among young gay men to achieve the muscular looks prized at circuit parties finds its apotheosis in the Billy doll displayed in one booth at last week's Barbie convention. Billy, available as a blond or a brunet, looks like a juiced Ken, a neckless thug. Advertised as "the world's first out and proud gay doll," Billy has that special something Ken lacks: "generously sized genitals." (There is also a gay Carlos. Unlike Ken or Billy, Carlos has a goatee and an uncircumcised penis. How ethnic!) Who, then, is the real man: Ken or Billy? You be the judge.

Or we could ask Barbie. But does she care? Barbie, of course, is not anatomically correct herself, so, even were Billy not gay, his macrophallic anatomy would be wasted on her. This of course, only leaves Billy with Carlos, just as circuit boys are left only with one another in real life. They are fundamentally mirror images. But that's the point, isn't it? Narcissism.Stand-by-your-man Barbie

It is right that Ken and Barbie, both lacking genitalia, have one another. This is as metaphorical as anything can be. Nice girls like Barbie still don't go all the way -- at least not until they are married and have a pink Corvette. So, no matter how much little girls may, in their feverish fantasies imagine Barbie and Ken coupling, Mattel has declared that it's not going to happen. Oh, sure, Ken can fondle Barbie's breasts -- they have no nipples anyway -- but he's not getting the real thing. (By the way, Barbie did have nipples at one point. "RARE NIPPLES," said occasional signs, hawking the special dolls, at the convention.)

Yes, Barbie's a tease. You'd call her a prick tease, if Ken had one or Billy was interested. If you doubt it, be advised that the winning custom exhibit this year, had three Barbies decked out as the strippers in Gypsy, performing the "Gimmick" number. This theme -- Barbie in sequin pasties -- was ubiquitous. Not bad for a girl without nipples! She's the girl next door playing innocently naughty for a moment.

Does Barbie have a sense of humor about herself? Doesn't she realize it's absurd that she simply appears as an African-American in one box, as Rapunzel in another, as a biker babe in yet another? Doesn't she realize that this pretense of multiculturalism is a transparent merchandising technique to Stepfordize all the young female children of America? She even has a Stepfordized friend in a wheelchair, Becky, "the school photographer." Come on! Barbie doesn't hang with crips! And circuit boys don't hang with the unattractive and handicapped either. Kenbos all dressed up

At least one designer at the exhibit gave Barbie a twisted sense of humor. He punked out her hair and tattooed her delicious plastic flesh. (One tat decorated her décolletage with the Sacred Heart; another declared: "Love Death.")

But my favorite exhibit was by Barbara King, a West Coast photographer at the convention with her mother, a serious dealer in Barbie collectibles. Barbara, who swears she is older than Barbie and thus was not named after her, was selling big black and white pictures of Barbie on a sandwich and being blowtorched. Another featured Barbie arms and legs stewing in a pot.

"Doesn't your mother mind?" I asked.

"Well," Barbara began. She paused while a real-life aging Barbie lookalike, skin tanned to leather, gazed at the pictures in horror. The woman moved away, perhaps to buy one of the nearby broaches made from heads sliced from Barbie torsos. "Well, she did ask that I not bring the one of a naked woman, bent over backward, with Ken strapped between her legs."

So, perhaps it is not so important that Ken has no penis. He is himself a dick. "And Barbie's a blond dipshit!" my blond friend Rose D'Agostino, the nicest person on earth, blurted aloud as we left the convention.

Bimbos and himbos. They will forever curse our existence, reminding us of the cruel hierarchy of beauty and youth. But do we hate them because they are beautiful and young?

Or do we hate them because they are plastic?

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